Chloe Walker: I’d love to start by learning how The Broad Place got its start. Could you tell us a little about how it came to be?
Jacqui Lewis: The Broad Place was initially formed out of my, and my husband Arran’s, desire to create a platform where we could educate ourselves on being better human beings and focus less on the doing.
We both had pretty diverse careers and at one particular time had a restaurant, a café, a fashion brand, a vodka brand, and a creative advertising agency, all simultaneously. We’d both had a lot of different experiences with startups and big business. This put us into contact with different people who were all suffering from stress and anxiety, and looking for something more.
“Focus less on the doing.”
We now call it the grey experience — where everything just becomes monotonous and you’re pushing toward something that you’re not quite sure when you get there, if it’s even what you’re looking for. If it would further our career or our business, that was our focus. It was always about getting ahead in a career sense.
I'd been studying Eastern knowledge and practice since 18, and I really was thirsting for a modern way to put that knowledge to use. So with that, we formed The Broad Place as a school to help people to educate themselves on how to be better human beings. Primarily, we help people with meditation practice. I'm a master teacher of Vedic meditation, so we teach that globally. We host experiences, retreats, we do a lot of workshops, courses, all founded on ancient knowledge for modern living.
CW: It sounds like you’re focused on working with people on somewhat conventional paths, but who might not be feeling incredibly fulfilled. How do you target these modern stressors, or as you call it the ‘grey experience’ that so many working people find themselves in?
JL: We do a lot of workshops on clarity and creativity. When we feel really connected to who we are, when we feel like we’re expanding and thinking creatively, that’s the antidote to feeling stress and anxiety. And that’s not about being an artist. It’s asking the question ‘how do I think laterally in a situation that I normally think has only one path?’
‘How do I think laterally in a situation that I normally think has only one path?’
We contract when we feel anxious and stressed, so it’s about coming up with a creative solution. So we do a lot of work around confidence and decision making. How do we deal with conflict; who do we want to be when we’re in these stressful situations?
I draw on lots of examples around elegance, grace, creative thinking, and being preemptive as opposed to being reactive, and responding as opposed to attacking. I use a lot of Dualist and Buddhists teachings to get that across.
I think Eastern knowledge is beautiful, but it needs to be applied. What about when I'm strung out and I'm in traffic? And what about when the client cancelled with me again at the last minute and now I'm almost in tears? And what about when my kids refuse to get ready in the timeframe that gets them to school on time and every day we are leaving the house with me screeching at them?
Those kinds of situations, those real life, modern situations where our phones are constantly bleeping at us, where we are absolutely overwhelmed with emails.
CW: I certainly have those moments! But I often find myself reaching for a solution that might bring more immediate relief. Do you think this is a common distraction from a better, longer-term solution?
JL: I hang around with a lot of people who practice meditation, obviously, because that’s my family now. But then I do a lot of workshops in workplaces and it constantly reminds me because people are like, ‘I'd love to learn to meditate but I really like drinking red wine in the evening and I really like coffee.’
I'm constantly saying to them ‘You can do whatever you want and you can meditate. You don’t have to become a vegan and stop having a gin and tonic because you meditate. You can be exactly who you are and have a complementary meditation practice that’s scientifically based.’
You can do whatever you want and you can meditate. You don’t have to become a vegan and stop having a gin and tonic because you meditate.
I'm constantly reminded that the vast majority of people feel meditation is going to stop them from doing all the things they love. And to me, that’s absolutely not the case. It’s a practice that can be employed and you can then continue to live your life however you want. You just feel more open and connected to who you are and maybe some of your choices will change, but they don’t have to.
CW: Yes! This kind of thinking is such a barrier to pursuing alternative practices. The idea that in order to meditate, or feel the benefits of Reiki, one has to become the kind of person who does that, as opposed to simply seeing all of these practices as tools.
JL: Exactly. The interesting thing is, once a person opens up to one practice, I find they open up to a lot more. It all goes into one basket for them. My dad was that way. Yoga, being vegetarian, anything that smelled like the ‘60s for him was just an absolute no go. Once he learned to meditate -- it took him a little bit but one day he was like, maybe I'll give this yoga thing a go and he absolutely loves that now too. And now he’s sort of like: maybe I should try acupuncture. It’s an unfurling – I find once people expand in general in one area, it does open them up to other things.
CW: The Domino Effect! What started you on your path to Vedic meditation?
JL: I'd been practicing meditation for eight or nine years; all different types; everything I could get my hands on and nothing was really quenching me. It wasn’t the fulfillment that I was looking for. And then I came across Vedic Meditation because my marriage was a bit rocky with my first husband, and Molly, my daughter, was a baby and I was still quite young; I had her at 25. I had a lot of friends that had learned Vedic Meditation and said how much it had changed there lives.
I was a little dubious. I ended up crawling through the door instead of walking because my anxiety and my stress levels were just so intense. I had a practitioner that did a stress test on me, and he was just like: ‘Look, this isn’t an option for you anymore; this is an absolute necessity. Your cortisol levels are out of control and this practice is a way to reduce those cortisol levels every day.’
I became a divorced, bankrupt, single mama at the age of 29, which was not part of my life plan, so I really committed myself to my practice and educating myself around it.
That’s why I ended up learning; it was sort of under duress. But I noticed a change instantly. And I kept practicing. I was haphazard with my practice, and then I was really stable with my practice, and haphazard again. I went through a really challenging time. I became a divorced, bankrupt, single mama at the age of 29, which was not part of my life plan, so I really committed myself to my practice and educating myself around it.
CW: It sounds like it really fulfilled a need you had. What do you think sets Vedic Meditation apart from other kinds of meditation you had worked with previously?
JL: So most meditation techniques that we do in the West are based on monastic practice. They were designed to be done for hours and hours in a monastery, ashram, forest, that kind of situation. Vedic meditation has its roots in Transcendental Meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It’s a different flavor, even though the techniques and the mantras are the same.
It was created for busy minds and busy lives; it was never a monastic practice. Most monastic meditation, when you’re doing it for a little bit, like 10, 20 minutes, half an hour; it’s supposed to be relaxing. And Vedic Meditation is definitely not that. The reason we practice Vedic, we close the eyes and unstress the body and allow the mind to dive into that state of soul consciousness is actually to feel better outside of meditation. It’s not necessarily a lovely, relaxing, joyful process when we close our eyes but we then outside of meditation feel brilliant. And it’s a massive distinction.
“The reason we practice Vedic, we close the eyes and unstress the body and allow the mind to dive into that state of soul consciousness is actually to feel better outside of meditation.”
I had so many students come to me and they’re like, ‘What the hell? This isn’t relaxing. I'm sitting here closing my eyes; what the hell is going on?’ And then outside of their practice when they open their eyes and complete 20 minutes of Vedic meditation, they start to feel more and more brilliant. They feel connected, vibrant, flexible, and dynamic. There are 72 blocks of 20 minutes in the day and ideally what we’re doing is we’re taking two of those 20 minute blocks to meditate in order make the other 70 blocks more vibrant.
“There are 72 blocks of 20 minutes in the day and ideally what we’re doing is we’re taking two of those 20 minute blocks to meditate in order make the other 70 blocks more vibrant.”
CW: Oh wow, I love that. What you describe your students feeling is really parallel to my own experience with meditation, and I imagine for many others too. It’s never really been a joy-filled experience, it’s mostly presented me instead with frustration. It’s really interesting to shift the perspective so that you go into the meditation accepting that it may not be the most enjoyable process but the benefits on the other side will be great.
JL: Exactly. It’s like the difference between going for a long, lovely stroll around the park to try to get fit or doing ten minutes of sprints. It’s minimal input, maximal output, which for me, as a Westerner, works brilliantly. We have the Broad Place, we have our daughter Molly. And before we had the Broad Place and we had several businesses, I just didn’t have the time to sit around and meditate. I was thinking what can I do now to be able to help me in all the things that I need to do in my day?
CW: Absolutely. Before speaking with you, I didn’t realize how many projects both you and Arran had worked on. How do you delineate your roles within the company and manage your time?
JL: There’s really nothing we do that we don’t both work on. I take care of the education and the teaching in regards to contact time with students and essentially he takes care of all of the visuals and the user experience. Arran’s a beautiful thinker, so he thinks things through when people arrive at our school, what are they seeing, what are they experiencing. And every single thing – we’ve got a huge, big, converted art gallery in Paddington in Sydney, and another little studio in Palm Beach -- everything in there is personal. Everything's got a story to tell. It means a lot. Arran’s a beautiful thinker like that. What’s the correspondence, what’s the follow up, what’s the student’s interaction with the Broad Place on every level and how can we gently support them in as many ways as possible; Aaron takes care of a lot of that.
CW: Your collaboration seems so central to your success, but it’s easy to also imagine challenges. What is it like to share both your work and your life with the same person? Do you try to keep the various aspects of your life separate?
JL: It’s the richest experience I've ever had. It’s intoxicating. Arran’s probably the only person I've ever met that I can spend 24 hours a day with, endlessly, and never tire. I think that’s unique in general and it’s the foundation for how we work together. Our aesthetic is very similar. Arran is probably more artistic; I'm probably more linear.
When we work together, it’s that beautiful complement of ‘What about this? What about that?’ Even our daughter Molly gets involved. She knows every inch of every design project that Aarran works on. The whole family is heavily involved in everything. It’s just the way we’ve chosen to live. So there’s definitely no work-life balance; I think that’s a myth. I think the key thing is to find something that we absolutely love and then be involved in it at all times.
CW: Another notable aspect of all this is that you are a mother, and a female entrepreneur and you’ve published works to that effect. How do you negotiate these two roles?
JL: Becoming a parent for me was a shock because I wasn’t planning to have children, let alone getting married. And then I ended up getting married twice and having a child. But Molly has changed everything for me. If you really look at business and parenting, parenting sharpens the pencil for business so much because there’s no more dithering around. Everything stacks up against spending time with your child. So all of a sudden what’s important and what’s not important in your business becomes awfully apparent.
So there’s definitely no work-life balance; I think that’s a myth. I think the key thing is to find something that we absolutely love and then be involved in it at all times.
Women often think having children will hinder their career. It definitely depends on what you choose to do but I found it to be one of the best things that ever happened to me in regards to my career. Priorities became really clear. But it took some time to build that clarity. I was really overwhelmed when Molly was small and that’s why I initially wrote The Mother’s Mind Cleanse. I felt like I was constantly divided and torn. When I was with Molly, I felt like I should be at work; when I was at work, I felt like I should be with Molly. It was a constant battle. There were a lot of tools that I employed to work through that, and I wrote that book to help mothers like me. Because we’re always thirsting for something else, no matter what we’ve got.
CW: It’s wonderful to hear such an optimistic perspective on being a woman in business while simultaneously parenting! One phrase that is introduced on your website speaks to this idea that we have a choice in not only how we see situations but how we respond to situations. You call this “high grade living” and I’d love to learn a little more about the ideas behind that.
JL: Oh, gosh, yes. This is one of my favorite concepts and I'm writing a book about it at the moment, about the essence of it. It’s frequently misunderstood as a justification to buy expensive stuff. And you can choose to interpret it that way, but the essence of high grade living is asking ‘how do I move from my lower self into my higher self at all times?’ With everything in our lives, there’s a higher-grade response and then a lower grade response. A lot of the time we feel choiceless, but everything is a choice.
The essence of high grade living is asking ‘how do I move from my lower self into my higher self at all times?’
So Aarran and I have been putting it to use around what we wear and how that makes us feel. Am I going to make a high-grade ethical choice, or am I going to make a low-grade choice and choose not to care?
The conversations that I have and the people I choose as friends, do they make me feel incredible? Do they make me feel inspired and creative? Or do I find myself just sitting around, having a bitch about somebody else and feeling quite negative? I get to choose.
The work I put out, is it high grade or is it low grade? The parenting, and who I am as a partner, high grade or low grade? Do I whine about the towel being dropped on the floor wet, or things being messy, or whatever it is. Or am I going to choose a higher-grade experience and choose love and compassion and be grateful for what I do have?
This is the underpinning of it. Basically you’re putting things on the scales. I get to choose am I going to go up or am I going to go down as a response to this experience? Am I going to expand or am I going to contract?
It’s a really interesting thing to teach people about. I do a lot of talks about this. I always say when I recommend this to people, I say just pick one area and start there. Usually people pick material things to begin with. It’s like alright, I'm going to do a look around my home and if I don’t love that thing, if an object does not resonate with me, does it need to be in my life? does this thing bring me joy? Is this high grade? Is this the kind of experience I want to have in my day every day?
CW: In the developing space of modern applications for alternative and Eastern traditions, what are your broader goals? What does The Broad Place’s dream world look like? What does a balanced society look like to you?
JL: People that understand the difference between empathy and compassion, that lean toward things that bring them more joy instead of leaning toward things that take away from them. People that understand that they have a choice in every single second of their day, and they can use the 80 to 90,000 thoughts that they have to benefit not only themselves but everybody else. Most of us feel stress and feel choiceless and don’t know what to do. And there is a way to rewire and retrain the brain to be more connected in those decision points of every day.
Most of us feel stress and feel choiceless and don’t know what to do. And there is a way to rewire and retrain the brain to be more connected in those decision points of every day.
One of my great teachers says don’t worry so much. It’s okay to worry about the planet but really worry about the people. If we take care of the consciousness of the people, then they will instinctively take care of the planet.
It’s about expansion of consciousness, so that we feel connected and not fearful. To me, consciousness is that feeling of unity and oneness. It sounds hippie-ish, but it’s about not being scared of anything because there is no ‘other.’ Those people believing those different things than me, they’re not scary. When we feel oneness, that’s not the case. It’s just a simple understanding that we’re all different and I think that’s so important. So expansion of consciousness is the thing; it’s the thing for me.
CW: That’s a lovely answer, and sounds like a world I would love to live in. You mentioned that you believe there’s a difference between compassion and empathy and that really caught my attention. Could you explain what you believe that difference to be?
JL: So for me, empathy is ‘Oh wow, I can feel what it feels like to be in that person’s shoes;’ end of subject. Compassion is ‘I can not only feel what it feels like to be in that person’s shoes, but I now know how to respond to the situation.’ Empathy is feeling what it feels like to be someone else, but there’s no action; it’s just an experience. Compassion for me is empathy with action.